One of the greatest worries applicants have is that they will be accepted to their dream school and not have the money to pay for it. Though financial aid attempts to bridge the gap between what school costs and what you can afford, it doesn't always succeed. If this happens to you, consider a private loan.

This is an option you should consider only after you have received every penny possible from the federal loan programs available and you have appealed your award offer from your chosen school.

While they won't be as good a deal as Stafford or PLUS loans, a well-chosen private loan can be a smart investment. If this is something you're contemplating, here are some facts you should know:

  • You do not need to complete a FAFSA to apply for a private loan.
  • Unlike government–sponsored loans, private loans have variable interest rates. This means that interest rates can fluctuate in both directions.
  • Your credit score can influence your eligibility and the interest rate on a private loan.
  • You may be able to borrow more than the cost of attendance, but that would be unwise! Do NOT borrow more than you need.
  • Private education loans are made to students. A student with a co–signer will probably get a better rate than a student without one.
  • You will usually have the option to defer payments until you finish school.
  • Private loans usually offer longer repayment periods (20–25 years rather than 10 years).

Most students borrow money to pay for their education. The greater your need, the more difficult the decision to borrow becomes. While you should never borrow more than you're comfortable owing, a smart, private education loan can represent a real solution to a financial hurdle.